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312                                                                                                             B. POLEVOI
It was a clear evening, fragrant, and so quiet that
the rumble of the now distant gun-fire sounded not like
the noise of battle, but like the thunder of a passing storm.
The road ran through what had formerly been a rye-field.
The dreary weeds which in the ordinary human world
timidly send up slender stalks in the corners of a yard,
or on a heap of stones on the edge of a field, in those
places that the master's eye rarely reaches, stood here
like a solid wall, huge, arrogant and strong, overpowering
the land that had been made fruitful by the sweat of
many generations of toilers. Only here and there could
a few thin ears of wild rye, like feeble blades of grass,
be seen struggling against this mass. The weeds devoured
all the substances of the soil, absorbed all the rays of the
sun, deprived the rye of light and sustenance, and so
these few ears had withered before they had bloomed
and never filled with grain.
Meresyev reflected: that is how the fascists wanted to
take root in our fields, to devour the substances of our
soil, to rob us of our riches, to rise up terrible and arrogant,
to shut out the sun and drive our great, labour-loving,
mighty people from their fields and gardens, deprive
them of everything, overwhelm and crush them as these
weeds had crushed these feeble ears which had now lost
even outward resemblance to a strong and beatiful ce-
real. Overcome by a wave of boyish energy, he swung
his ebony stick and hacked at the reddish, feathery weeds,
and was filled with elation when whole batches of the
arrogant heads were cut down. The sweat poured down
his face, but he kept on hacking at the weeds that had
choked the rye, rejoicing in the sensation of struggle and
action that filled his tired body.
Quite unexpectedly a jeep snorted behind him and
with squeaking brakes pulled up on the road. Without
looking round, Meresyev guessed that the Wing Com-
mander had overtaken him and had seen him in this
boyish occupation. He flushed up to his ears and, pretend-
ing he had not heard the approach of the car, began to
dig the earth with his stick. But he heard the colonel say:
Cutting 'em down? It's a useful occupation. I've been
looking for you all over the place. Everybody's asking for
our-hero* And here he is warring- with weeds."